A time comes for all of us that bends our souls in half and sets us on a journey of solitude and anguish. No one in the history of humanity has been able to escape the clutches of sorrow; even those who live in the lap of abundance in time are pierced with the pointed bayonet of melancholy. Ennui is the greatest of all equalizers. Agony relative yet related to all, suffering is such an integral facet of life that the lack of hardship becomes a malady of its own. Pain is a connective tissue that binds up the whole of humanity; from kings to paupers and all in between, hardship is the one thing we all have in common.
What I’m about to tell you next is not something that is unique to me nor am I using this occasion to whine about my lot in life. To the contrary, I am speaking of my hardship as a means of testimony for I realize after going through the darkest of existence that blessings are found through the travails we all encounter on this journey called life. This is not to minimize the struggles we all feel, just as I once woke up cursing my existence and questioning the providence of God, I will not begrudge anyone who goes through the same existential deliberations. I guess what I am saying is that I am not about to be sanctimonious and tell people to suck it up. When the fires come for each one of us, we have every right to be vexed and confounded by the flames of this world that lick at our souls. We have to go through it, the only way to the sunny side is to be first enveloped by dim clutches of dejection’s tentacles.
See, not too long ago my life was turned upside down as what I once took for granted was ripped away and I was granted a life of destitution instead. This life of ours is truly a vapor; a mist where the comforts we think is permanent can be set asunder through a mix of our own doing and the indifference or malice of others. I’m not saying this to induce a sense of anxiety in you on this blessed Sunday; rather it is my hope that I reduce any sense of apprehension you might feel since we live in a time of never ending financial and social angst that seems omnipresent. It’s the darnedest thing! When the very things we fear pixelate into existence, we find the reserve we thought we never had to survive the most excruciating moments.
My dance with misfortune happened not too long ago. The bottom fell from underneath me and for almost year I was too consumed by self-preservation to comprehend the depth of which my life had been radically altered. The full story of what I went through I will leave to God; if the time comes for me to relay the details of what I went through from the time I left my once home Virginia and how I sought shelter in one mission after another from South Carolina, Iowa, Tennessee to Colorado I pray that my father in heaven imbues my heart with enough wisdom and forgiveness to turn my trek into a story of grace instead of a narrative of hurt or vengence. I’m making steps towards this goal even though a few months ago I was mired in hopelessness and abject despondence.
My progress from being lost to finding direction and purpose would not have been possible without the embrace and encouragement of countless honorable walkers. With the exception of a few angelic souls who stayed by my side, when the inferno of hell was unleashed into my once comfortable life, a village of friends and close souls became ghost as if they were the offspring of Casper and Patrick Swayze. I would find out though that this phenomenon is not exclusive to me; I’ve talked to countless people from the manager of the motel I once stayed at in Ankeney Iowa to the owner of an art boutique in Fort Collins, Colorado. The people who can’t get enough of us during the season of abundance vanish quicker than Usain Bolt when the season of privation arrives.
Life though, it’s all about perspective. We can focus on the close ones who left, the friends who hurt us, and the accumulations that we lost, or we can see the blessings made evident by way of strangers during our crucibles. We are only human, when the tribulation initially darkens our doorsteps, few among us will count blessings. We have every right to be pissed and hurt, to be undone by depression and buried by remorse and regrets. But in time a choice arrives before us, choose defiance or imprison our spirits with bitterness. The measure of a champion is not found when one is swimming in the waters of happiness; a hero is the one who gets knocked flat on her back and gets back up. Audacity is not being undefeated for only hubris is found in those who never tasted loss, the true audacity of hope is found in those who once floundered only to find purpose after emerging on the other side of distress.
All of in a rush to change the world yet the biggest change we can offer is the smallest gesture of kindness to those who are broken and subsumed by anguish right before us. Too often we choose piety instead of grace; altruism often nothing more than a knife covered up in the blanket of concern, we condemn those who struggle instead of choosing forbearance. Too quick to judge and quicker yet to belittle, our words become bazookas that blast at the morale of others. Even when we try to help others, too often the inclination is not to walk shoulder to shoulder with the ones we aim to lift but to instead clamp at their ears and lead them. We all want to be shepherds but few admit that they too are sheep who struggle to find greener pastures. Easier to help others than to address our own deficiencies, too many project their own demons outward and think they are justifiably lashing at the incompetence of others while neglecting their own foibles.
I am not pointing fingers without understanding that I too do this. If I write what you perceive to be wisdom, it’s only because God has seen it fit to bless me with serendipity as I type in spite of the planks that dot my pupils. Moreover, the hardships I went through gave me the proper perspective to value and cherish those who walk with others and realize the detriment that is manifested from those who preach piously. No wonder Yeshua was as harsh on the pious as he was on the pharisees, those who think they have discovered God only to turn around and condemn others are not doing God’s work at all. God is nowhere to be found with those who get on soapboxes and think they can preach to others for the only god these misdirected lot are serving are their own egos. Logically I understand what these folks are doing, they are doing nothing more than punting piety in order to disavow their own torments. Hurt people hurt people; trauma that breaks the heart too often leads to people lashing out instead of mending within.
There is another path though, we don’t have to choose the trails of bitterness and antipathy. When hurt visits us, choose above all to be kind for kindness is a balm that heals us as much as it helps others. I’m not speaking on this as a hypothesis, when I was bracketed in the abyss of depression not too long ago, it was the most random act of kindness that became my lighthouse towards safe shores away from the seas of distress. I did not even realize it at the time, the sheer gravity of this one act of benevolence because I was too wrapped in the arms of doldrums to understand how a moment can change the trajectory of our lives. I’ve attended endless prayer sessions and sermons yet it was the most arbitrary encounter with good will that had the most lasting impact of them all.
When I first arrived in Colorado, sometime in June the mission I was staying at offered residents tickets to the Colorado Rockies game. Instead of wallowing in sorrow, I figured a baseball game might lift the spirits. Except when we are being confounded by the pointlessness of life’s slings and arrows, even the most melodious symphony rings like clangs in our ears. After the game ended, I went to the bathroom only to realize that I had gotten separated from the group I came to the game with. All the sudden, a feeling of anxiety crept in! I did not know anyone in Colorado and this realization spun my mind into catastrophe mode. I walked around for 30 minutes and I could not find the group I came to the game with and could not find the van neither for I was not paying attention when the driver was looking for a parking space. I started to imagine the worst; trying to figure out where to go or who to call since I was a pilgrim without a dollar to my name wandering lost in a new state.
It’s in these moments that the smallest glimmer of hope can seem like manna from heaven. My distress was alleviated the minute I saw a familiar face walking towards me. Thank you God! I thought to myself for this guy was Matthew, one of the people in the van, who was strolling in my direction. But then bliss gave way to yet more stress; I started thinking “oh man now I have to tell him where I’ve been for the past 40 minutes and try to allay his anger that he most likely feels towards me”. I was about to open up my mouth and adjudicate my defense. But as soon as Matthew got near me, he just smiled and said “hey Teddy, been looking for you” and with a smile put his arms around my shoulders to walk with me towards the van. Matthew did not judge nor condemn, he just smiled and walked with me.
We keep asking “what would Jesus do” as if we don’t know the answer. What Yeshua did was walk with the people and he let love be his guiding principle. We have so turned Jesus into an idol that we forget his message, to love each other like a neighbor and to forgive each others shortcomings. The world would be such a better place if we observed this simple rule: don’t judge, don’t push. As in don’t judge others for there too we all go—the season of adversity is one none of us can evade. Instead of judging, be compassionate and walk with those who you strive to help. Titles and honors are meaningless and money is utterly worthless; the greatest treasure we have is the love within us and that treasure is increased as we give that love to others. So judge less and be more love and likewise stop pushing piously to others. Instead of thinking we have it figured out, how about we say “I too struggle” and go on a journey of discovery with others who are broken like us. Be less religious and be more faith; religion elevates our own egos, faith is serving others and paying homage to God above us.
Life is truly poetic, one of my favorite books in the bible is Matthew. During my journey into the depth of hell, it was the book of Matthew I kept reading over and over again. There is a quote in Matthew 10:14 that reads “and if anyone will not welcome you or heed your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town”. As life would have it, I kicked the dust off my feet town after town from South Carolina all the way to Colorado for the past two years. But now I see the town that Matthew 10:14 was talking about was not cities after all; the towns are in our heart—we can either welcome people with grace or obstruct others with judgement. The world is covered in the dust of condemnation, fiery rhetoric, and divisive talk; we can choose to stay in this town of animus and fight antipathy with pettiness. Or we can choose to kick the dust off our feet and walk towards the more welcoming town of good will.
I pray contentiously for the wisdom to return hostility with kindness, to answer malice with grace and to forgive above all with the spirit of love. I do this for me as much I do for others for there is no profiting in being cocooned by bitterness. Every burden is a blessing waiting to be discovered once we have been imbued with the wisdom that comes only through suffering. When my exodus first started in DC on a cold February Thursday, I found myself all the sudden on the streets of DC. Hotel after hotel I went to refused to take the little cash I had and a few on F Street would not even let me in the lobby. But trails of tears in time lead to pathways of blessings, I’m writing this article while sitting at a Days Inn and I just had the most amazing conversation with the manager Alex and the Jackie at the front desk welcomed me with a smile and kindness that one would give to the prince of Edinburgh.
The whole staff at Days Inn in Wellington is awesome, from Greta the new general manager to Jody who another front desk staffer who works two jobs to provide for her children, this hotel is more like a home away from home. This is what happens when community is more important than self-centered pursuits. We should all treat each other like royalty even if some of us are paupers; be kind to all for those who struggle in barrenness can one day rise to greatness. This is what binds all of us, the hope to rise above our circumstances and the potential to make the universe shake in wonderment is inherent in each and every one of us. So instead of judging on the outside, let us embrace the beauty that resides in all of us. For we are all children of God who strive to do better in life, we can realize peace on earth if we only see each other as pieces that combine to form a familial circle.
Life is beautiful in spite of the moments that make us question our very existence. But we would not appreciate the blessings of life if we are not swallowed like Jonah by the whale of lament. We are the better though through the albatrosses that are occasionally dangled on our necks. If you are going through your winter of barrenness, hold tight for one day the spring will arrive and the snows of hopelessness will melt away through the showers of triumph. And if you happen to encounter someone who seems lost or is not performing to your standard, I ask of you to just pause before you condemn or before you preach with piety. Instead of being a shepherd or trying to manage their pains, walk with them and offer them encouragement and kindness. True royalty are those who serve not those who think they can lead others. Disregard pious lectures and be a honorable walker with your fellow humans:: #PuntingPiety
In spite of the hell around us, heave is within us.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.